Brother studying at Loyola nominated for Opus Prize

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Bannakaroli Brother Charles Nuwagaba, a student at Loyola University Chicago, is nominated for the $1 million Opus Prize awarded each year to a faith-based leader in humanitarian efforts. (Brian Brach/Archdiocesan Office for Radio and Television)

When Bannakaroli Brother Charles Nuwagaba travels to St. Louis for the Opus Prize presentation in November, he’ll know that he has already won.

Not because the three finalists for the prize are guaranteed $100,000, but because the event includes time for all the finalists to speak to students at St. Louis University, which this year partnered with the Opus Prize Foundation on the selection process.

“I want to tell them that whatever you acquire when you are studying, it has a meaning if you can help people to live better,” said Brother Charles, 54. “But if you have a Ph.D., if you have a master’s degree, and you cannot help people, then the education you have is entirely useless.”

Brother Charles is studying for a master’s degree in pastoral counseling at Loyola University Chicago. It’s the second time he has participated in a program that allows members of his order to study at the university while living with the Jesuit community there.

The $1 million Opus Prize is awarded each year to a faith-based leader in humanitarian efforts, while the other two finalists receive $100,000. This year’s other finalists are Michael Fernandez-Frey of Caras Con Causa in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Sister Catherine Mutindi of Bon Pasteur in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Brother Charles said he intends to put the money he receives into developing a counseling center at one of his community’s facilities, the Watoto Wa Lwanga School in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s a school and vocational training center for pregnant teenagers and teenage mothers in the city’s Kibera slum.

The project offers young women food, education, parenting classes, child care and other support.

Many — probably most — people who live in Kibera struggle with their mental health because of the stress caused by their living conditions, Brother Charles said. That is why he chose to come back to Chicago to study counseling.

He was also at Loyola from 2005 to 2009, first finishing a bachelor’s degree in economics and then a master’s in education, focusing on administration and supervision.

He then went back to Uganda to serve as his community’s provincial vicar, overseeing all of the community’s schools in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. He stepped down from that position earlier this year, after celebrating his 25th anniversary in religious life.

Micael Clarke, an associate professor of English at Loyola, is chair of the Bannakaroli Foundation, created in 2015 to help raise money and awareness for the brothers and their projects. She has been involved with the brothers who came to Loyola since the first members came at the invitation of the late Jesuit Father Raymond Baumhart, then Loyola’s president, in 1987.

“I had some of them in my freshman English class,” she said. “And there was one who was brilliant with computers, but he needed some help with the language, so I would meet with him to go over the readings.”

That was the beginning of her commitment to the Bannakaroli Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga, the first indigenous Catholic men’s religious community in Africa. It was founded with a mission of serving and educating people in marginalized communities in East Africa. A convert to Catholicism, Charles Lwanga was one of 22 Catholics martyred for the faith in Uganda in 1886.

The program with Loyola was underwritten for a number of years by the Conrad Hilton Foundation, but since the grant funding ended in 2007, the Jesuit community has been providing room and board and the university has been providing scholarships to cover tuition.

“When we educate these men, they can do so much good when they go home,” Clarke said.

The Loyola development office also helped form the foundation and apply for legal non-profit status to help the brothers raise money in the United States, Clarke said.

Nuwagaba credits that, along with the efforts of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Mission Office, with helping him spread the word.

“When I first came here, not many people knew about us or what we did,” he said. “Not even the faculty of Loyola. I thought more people should know about us.”

He and Clarke organized a dinner, then a silent auction. Brother Charles was invited to take part in the archdiocesan mission appeal effort for the first time in 2007, and has done so every year since, even when he had to travel back to Chicago from Uganda.

“It has been tremendously important to me, and it has impacted my life to see the faith of the people energized by solidarity with people who are not in their community, not in the country, not even on their continent,” Brother Charles said. “The people of the Archdiocese of Chicago have been very welcoming and generous.”

The welcome he received here has led him expand his efforts, giving mission talks in other dioceses around the Midwest: Green Bay, Cleveland and Milwaukee. He inspired some parishioners to learn more, and some have visited the Bannakarolis and their works in Africa.

He believes that whoever nominated him for the Opus Prize came from among those people.

“It’s not a prize you apply for,” he said. “Someone nominates you and they do kind of a background check and then talk to you.”

In February, representatives from the Opus Prize Foundation and St. Louis University, including faculty and students, visited Brother Charles, and he took them to Nairobi.

While there, he looked around the nursery where the babies stayed while their mothers were in class.

“Here were 14 babies that might not be alive without this,” he said. “It touched my life.”

For more on the Bannakaroli Foundation, visit


  • loyola university chicago
  • men religious

Related Articles